Scientists May Have Found a ‘Space Sunscreen’—and It Sounds Out of This World

Scientists May Have Found a ‘Space Sunscreen’—and It Sounds Out of This World featured image
Arctic-Images / Getty Images

Between the launch of SpaceX and the just-announced NASA Perseverance rover mission slated for later this month, space is certainly having a moment this summer.

And now it’s getting into the ultimate skin-care solution: sunscreen.

As first reported by Live Science, biochemists are playing with something called selenomelanin, a bioengineered material that’s made from a mix of natural pigment melanin—as in the naturally occurring pigment found in our skin—with the metal selenium.

“Melanin is ubiquitous and enigmatic,” Nathan Gianneschi, a biochemist at Northwestern University told Live Science. “We don’t fully understand it.”

While it all sounds like a bunch of scientific soup, the article explained that, “during lab experiments, skin cells treated with selenomelanin were able to shrug off doses of X-ray radiation that would be lethal to a human being. The selenomelanin was absorbed into the cells and formed what Gianneschi called ‘microparasols,’ or tiny shields around the cells’ nuclei, where DNA is stored.”

While the report noted the material still needs to be tested on humans, as well as in the great unknown of space, the protection invention looks promising and other groups have already contacted Gianneschi with an interest in studying his team’s intercellular sunscreen. 

According to NASA’s site, astronauts need more than SPF 30 to protect them, as they are exposed to what’s called space radiation and an even more sinister-sounding source called galactic cosmic radiation, which can pass through skin or a spacecraft.

The not-from-this-planet radiation puts space travelers “at significant risk for radiation sickness, and increased lifetime risk for cancer, central nervous system effects, and degenerative diseases,” NASA explains. “Research studies of exposure in various doses and strengths of radiation provide strong evidence that cancer and degenerative diseases are to be expected from exposures to galactic cosmic rays (GCR) or solar particle events (SPE).”

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